Monday, February 22, 2016 11:06 am
By Bola Bolawole
The advice by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, that President Muhammadu Buhari summon an emergency meeting on the economy appears on the surface innocuous but deep down, it is fully loaded and ominous. On a visit to the Dr. Josef Goebbels of the APC administration, Alhaji Lai Mohamed, Soyinka called for an emergency conference on the economy to which people outside government circles will also be invited, such as consumers, producers, Labour unions, experts on the economy, University egg-heads, among others. Note Soyinka’s exact words: “I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation bringing as many heads as possible together to plot the way forward”
We must also note that the Nobel Laureate, being not just a man of letters but also one with an internationally-acclaimed mastery of the English Language, gingerly and delectably picks his words. He means the words that he uses; no idle or wasteful word is allowed. So, look at the words he chose to employ in just that sentence: “I think we really need…” meaning that it was a carefully thought-out process that brought out his advice; he was not whimsical about it. He did not just wake up from the wrong side of his bed to begin to rant; the advice was his considered opinion. And he was emphatic that not only do we need the conference he is advocating, “we really need” it.
That emphasis is very important. The Soyinka conference will not be just any ordinary, mill-of-the-run, daily conference but an “emergency economic conference”; what he advocates is an extra-ordinary conference, as it were. We all know the difference between a scheduled, normal meeting and an emergency\extra-ordinary meeting. Going along with an emergency is the necessity to make haste; to hurry up with the aim of averting possible or looming danger. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines emergency as “a sudden serious and dangerous event or situation which needs immediate action to deal with it”
Soyinka says what is needed now is “a rescue operation”; you rescue what is in danger or what has been lost or stolen e.g. the Chibok girls. And you do so in\by an operation; lighting operation possibly in a military fashion; taking the opponents\enemies by surprise; churning out in rapid succession series of precision attacks that will not only daze but also totally uproot the enemy. This is not the time for go-slow action; the type that allowed Boko Haram escape with the Chibok girls before we starting asking “where are they?” What is needed is (surgical) operation because the patient’s condition (i.e. Nigeria) is critical.
This is no time for palliative measures. “Emergency” and “operation” go hand-in-hand – and this time, its purpose is a rescue mission. We have lost\we are losing\we are about to lose something as important as our economy (i.e. the blood that runs in the country’s veins) and prompt and quick action is needed to avert such a disaster. Soyinka wants “as many heads as possible (to be brought) together” to undertake this urgent and critical national assignment. What it means is that he is not convinced the number of “heads” currently tending to the matter is enough – presumably both in quantity and quality. Therefore, he wants a foray further afield in the search for solutions. I understand him to mean that a non-partisan gathering of “heads” is what is needed at this juncture. We must therefore jettison “us” and “they”; “our government” and “our opponents\enemies” mentality. It will be unhelpful at this point in time when all hands are needed to be on the deck to rescue the nation. Soyinka is quite clear and emphatic about the purpose of the emergency conference on the economy that he has called for; it is “to plot the way forward”.
This is no time for palliative measures. “Emergency” and “operation” go hand-in-hand – and this time, its purpose is a rescue mission. We have lost\we are losing\we are about to lose something as important as our economy (i.e. the blood that runs in the country’s veins) and prompt and quick action is needed to avert such a disaster. Soyinka wants “as many heads as possible (to be brought) together” to undertake this urgent and critical national assignment. What it means is that he is not convinced the number of “heads” currently tending to the matter is enough – presumably both in quantity and quality. Therefore, he wants a foray further afield in the search for solutions.
This can only mean that we are not going forward at the moment; what we have\what we are doing is taking us anywhere but forward. In other words, we may be stagnating at the moment; we may even be regressing\ going backward or we may be moving in cycles, like the proverbial barber’s chair. All motion; little or no movement; all sound and fury but signifying nothing, to quote William Shakespeare. A new “plot” is needed to move the nation “forward”. Either there is no such plot at the moment or what we have is so defective\useless that it cannot guarantee our going “forward”.
The beauty of it is that Soyinka is not an enemy of the Buhari government; in fact, he will be classified more as friend than as enemy of the APC. And he did not make his comments outside but took the pains to travel to the appropriate quarters – the Minister of Information’s office in Abuja – to offer his priceless advice. I hope it is well taken – and taken also in good faith. With those who get easily irritated by the slightest show of dissent, Soyinka’s advice can earn him the status of a persona non grata. But that will not in any way help this administration. Already, important players in the economy have queued behind Soyinka – the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, and the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for instance. As at the time of writing this, the official currency, the Naira, which used to exchange at N165 to the US$ when Buhari took over last May, was exchanging for close to N400 to US$ – and there was nothing suggesting it would not continue the free fall. This staggering depreciation in the value of the Naira poisons the system for everyone – except, of course, the speculators and round-trippers.
Producers\manufacturers, importers as well as consumers are shell-shocked. Nigerians studying in foreign countries have been some of the hardest hit. Cost of goods and services are skyrocketing even as the purchasing power of the Naira dips disastrously. Government’s debt stock will balloon, taking debt-servicing obligations to prohibitive levels. The 2016 budget has problems of its own; now is added the dilemma of dwindling income from crude oil sales and a collapsing Naira. At both macro and micro levels, the prognosis for the economy is troubling.
Like Soyinka rightly said, the rains started beating us a long time ago and matters have only got to a head now. And like Buhari pitied himself for coming on board at this very awkward period, we also sympathise with him. But that is where it ends! The whining of APC leaders about how PDP ruined Nigeria since 1999 has got to stop forthwith and they must roll up their sleeves and begin to repair the damage. Nigerians knew this and that was why they rejected ex-President Goodluck Jonathan\PDP; trusting Buhari\APC to clear the Augean stable and put country and people back on the path of prosperity. Either they do or they get off our back!